Scotland's chances of reaching Brazil were effectively dashed inside the first week when they could only draw at Hampden against Serbia and Macedonia, with twin defeats by Wales the nadir of yet another failed mission.
By the time Euro 2016 comes around, it will be 18 years since Scotland last reached a major finals. Still, hope springs eternal and recent matches under Gordon Strachan have offered encouragement. There has been no huge change in tactics or personnel but subtle tinkering and the introduction of one or two influential players have made a noticeable difference. A home match against a talented Croatia side will be a further test of just how much of an improvement has been made in recent months and a chance to demonstrate that February's draw for European Championship qualifying should be something to look forward to rather than dreaded.
Here are five factors that have made a difference in recent months.
1. A switch in formation
Whereas Craig Levein stuck rigidly to 4-1-4-1 (the 4-6-0 aberration in Prague aside), Strachan has tweaked the shape in recent matches to resemble something closer to a 4-2-3-1. It will not satisfy those who continue to scream for the return of 4-4-2 and two strikers but the manager clearly believes in the merits of a system that has become commonplace throughout Europe.
It has proved effective so far, although who to deploy in the key positions - No.9 and No.10 - remains uncertain following the retirement of Kenny Miller and Kris Commons. Shaun Maloney and Steven Fletcher, both injured, would seem the most obvious candidates in the long run.
2. A midfield axis of Charlie Mulgrew and Scott Brown
Levein tended to deploy a spoiler, such as Gary Caldwell, or a deep-lying passer, such as Charlie Adam, between midfield and defence but Strachan's decision to pair Mulgrew and Brown has worked well. Both have suffered from being moved around a lot in their careers but their effectiveness together in recent games suggests this may be where Strachan gets the best out of them.
Mulgrew offers height, strength and solidity, although his movement and pace mean he is more than just a defensive destroyer type. Brown is a whirl of activity, equally as adept at breaking up attacks as carrying Scotland forward. Having a No.10 between him and the strikers also negates the need for Brown to make long searching passes, while Mulgrew's threat in both taking and being on the end of set pieces is another useful asset.
3.The discovery of Ikechi Anya
Such was the impact of the Watford player during his cameo appearance against Belgium and again in the win away to Macedonia, it seems remarkable he had to wait until he was 25 for international recognition. For 4-2-3-1 to be a success you need vibrant figures in the wide areas and Anya provides that in abundance. His goal in Skopje also showed he has an end product, too. Down-to-earth, charismatic and bubbly, his personality has helped lift a group who had been down on their luck.
4. Keeping a settled defence
The back four is arguably the weakest part of this Scotland team but Strachan has decided that keeping the same unit together is the best way to bring about an improvement. Russell Martin, Grant Hanley, Steven Whittaker and Alan Hutton have played together in the last four matches, a spell that included victories in Croatia and Macedonia and a creditable performance at Wembley.
Neither Martin nor Hanley are likely to be mistaken for the second coming of Franz Beckenbauer but their energetic, safety-first approach has been effective, while Whittaker and Hutton have proved willing performers in the full-back roles. Whittaker's suspension and an injury to Lee Wallace could allow Motherwell's Steven Hammell to start against Croatia but expect the other three to keep their places.
5. Putting accent on the positive
Strachan is shrewd enough to know he doesn't have a group of world-class operators at his disposal but that does not mean any Scotland team should cower in fear of the opposition. If the win in Croatia was achieved with a backs-to-the-wall performance, then the subsequent displays against England and Macedonia focused more on the positives and trying to get forward as often as possible.
A brace of goals in each game was the reward for such an approach, and it was heartening to see a Scotland team bounce back from the loss of a late equaliser (as happened in Macedonia) and conjure up an even later winner. Maybe the good times are not far away after all . . .